Tenses

In this post, we will be looking in-depth at tenses.

In the IELTS Speaking Test, the examiner will probably ask you questions that will require you to answer with the correct tense, while also giving additional information. 

Listen for the tenses in the questions, as this is the tense you should use in your answer. You should be able to understand if the question is about the past, the present or the future. Think about using related tenses when giving more information if relevant. 

For example, the examiner might ask you;

What are your future career plans?

I would like to study for a Master's and go much further academically, in the next 3-5 years. I had previously studied creative writing as part of my university course. I have a huge interest in seeing where my creativity could take me. I want to be able to write novels in the future, preferably non-fiction.

What tenses are used in the answer? 

TIP >> The questions asked is an opportunity for you to talk about your own experiences, with examples. A simple answer will not gain you a high band score. You must extend your answer giving more information to show off your vocabulary and grammar knowledge. 


The Past Simple

The past simple and the past continuous are commonly used to describe events in the past.

The past simple is used to express something that happened a past point in time. Remember to always use a past time expression, or a clear contextual clue when using the past simple. If you do not indicate when something happened, use the present perfect for unspecified past.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... ago
... in + year / month
...yesterday
...last week/month/year... when ...

Examples;

Positive

Subject + Past Tense + object(s) + time Expression

I went to the beach yesterday.

Negative

Subject + did + not (didn't) + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They didn't join us for lunch yesterday.

Question

(Question Word) + did + subject + verb + object(s) + time Expression

When did you buy that jacket?


The Past Continuous

The past continuous tense is used to describe what was happening at a specific moment in the past. Do not use this form when referring to longer periods of time in the past such as 'last May', 'three years ago', etc. 

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... at 6.30, four o'clock, etc.

Examples;

Positive

Subject + was / were + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

We were meeting with Lana at one o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Negative

Subject + was / were + not (wasn't, weren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

They weren't playing volleyball at two o'clock on Sunday.

Question

(Question Word) + was / were + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What were you doing at three-thirty yesterday afternoon?


The Present Simple

The present simple is used to express daily routines and habits. Adverbs of frequency such as 'usually', 'sometimes', 'rarely', etc. are often used with the present simple.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

always, usually, sometimes, etc.
... every day
... on Sundays, Tuesdays, etc.

Positive

Subject + Present Tense + object(s) + time Expression

Jamie usually, takes a train to college.

Negative

Subject + do / does + not (don't / doesn't) + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They don't often go to London.

Question

(Question Word) + do / does + subject + verb + object(s) + time Expression

How often do you play volleyball?


The Present Continuous

One use of the present continuous tense is for action that is occurring at the moment of speaking. Remember that only action verbs can take the continuous form.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... at the moment
... now
... today
... this morning/afternoon/evening

Positive

Subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

She's watching a movie now

Negative

Subject + be + not (isn't, aren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

They aren't having food this morning.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What are you doing?


The Present Continuous (for events)

One use of the present continuous tense is for scheduled future events. This is especially useful when talking about appointments and meetings.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... tomorrow
... on Friday, Monday, etc.
... today
... this morning/afternoon/evening
... next week/month
... in December, March, etc.

Positive

Subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

I'm meeting Tom at seven o'clock this evening.

Negative

Subject + be + not (isn't, aren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Shelley isn't attending the study group on Friday.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

When are you discussing the essay with Tom?

Present Question and Answer Example >>

Question >> What do you like about your town/city?

I really enjoy the culture here, the architecture and the atmosphere. The historical town was built by the Venetians, which makes the architecture of the streets similar to many places in Italy. There are also many great restaurants to visit, from places in the centre of the town to others next to the sea. My favourite restaurant is a busy place on the corner of a narrow street that serves traditional Greek food and it is always busy. A new place has opened up next to the sea and I want to go and eat there next week.

The answer tells the examiner about the present and mentions future plans - A new place has opened up next to the sea and I want to go and eat there next week. The answer uses the present simple and the present continuous.


The Future Simple

The future simple refers to a time later than now and expresses facts or certainty. In the IELTS Speaking Test, it is likely that if you are asked a question about the future it will be a prediction. For example, asking you about your plans after your studies, where you will go on your next holiday and other possible situations. 

The future with 'will' is used for a number of situations:

Used for Predictions

It will rain this week.

It will be really hot tomorrow.

Used for Plans

The future with 'going to' is used to express planned events or intentions.

These events or intentions are decided on before the moment of speaking.

Jamie is going to study Nursing.

Where are they going to stay when they visit?

Future Question and Answer Example >>

Question >> What do you think you will be doing in five years time?

In five years I would like to have a senior position in the hospital I work in. I am enjoying working there and I'm trying my best to progress further. I will continue to work in my chosen area of paediatrics, as I really enjoy working with children and helping them to get better. I want to be able to have a more senior role in the future so that I can have more of a say in decision-making and take on more responsibility. 

Can you see the tenses used?

The present continuous > I am enjoying working there and I'm trying my best to progress further.

The present simple > I want to be able to have a more senior role in the future so that I can have more of a say in decision-making and take on more responsibility.  (This describes her long-term plans)

The future simple > I will continue to work in my chosen area of paediatrics, as I really enjoy working with children and helping them to get better.


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